Knowledge Machines

Human knowledge – considered as a single entity – is a leviathan – and consists of aggregates of fragments. The vast majority of recorded knowledge ‘atoms’ (micro-thoughts/datums) are stored within incompatible/temporary/poorly-indexed and ‘lumpy’ media containers – ergo most items lie out of reach. But on a collective World-Brain or Universal Knowledge Machine (UKM) no public item (i.e. open thought/datum) is ever lost, isolated or invisible!

Why propose building a UKM? Are not current Internet/Cloud systems sufficient for our task? No not at all – because (for example) with a World-Wide-Web based search system such as Google you only ever see a small fraction of the myriad of items, associations and pattern(s) present, and can only faintly perceive the countless connections and vast network of relationships of everything to everything else. In reality – items and connections between items – are without limit.

A great number of relevant facts/claims/ideas/ causal-paths/histories are known to exist (on all topics); but here you can only scramble about – blindly – amongst a tiny subset. Evidently, the Internet consists mostly of isolated – and ostensibly orphaned – nuggets of information that lie deep inside largely opaque and coarse-grained files and documents, monolithic databases, plus unstructured web-pages etc. Items often become lost, erased or hidden; and useful datums, variants, informative links and contextualizing patterns – are inaccessible.

World Brain

By contrast H.G.Wells, Paul Otlet, Dr Emanuel Goldberg, Dr Douglas Engelbart, Dr Ted Nelson and Dr Kim Veltman etc; have made a call for the urgent development of a World-Brain – whereby everything is amalgamated into a single properly organized/indexed and fully hyperlinked global media system. Notably, the reasons given for developing a collective World-Brain are not typically equated to the creation of a Utopia; but rather for education, enlightenment and enhanced knowledge plus insight; and for avoidance of outright despotic regimes whereby technologies are used to subjugate man and/ or to block his basic human rights .

In this section we provide technical blue-prints for a UKM – by amalgamating useful World-Brain conceptions and generalized thinking concepts, knowledge systems/theories, World-Library/ Encyclopedia plans and technical solutions from a variety of publication-sources/subject-disciplines and research papers etc. Our goal is to identify top-level features/capabilities of the envisaged UKM, whilst acknowledging that building/populating/cataloguing this system is left to others (and notably by all of humanity).

A World-Brain allows us to know: where we have been, where we are at present, and where we are going – individually and collectively. Urgently desired is all world’s knowledge coalesced into a unified whole. Accordingly, it is nothing less than preservation of civilization that is at stake. QED.

Dream of Capturing all Knowledge

The dream of capturing and organizing all knowledge is as old as history.

From ancient Sumeria and the Library of Alexandria to the Library of Congress and the British Library, the World Wide Web and Wikipedia etc; humanity has long wrestled with the problem of harnessing all intellectual output. Despite the various successes afforded by such admirable efforts; the dream of ultimate wisdom remains unfulfilled; and has twin sides. Firstly there is the significant problem of scale. Unfortunately the task of collating together all the world’s facts, datums, opinions and ideas etc – within a single system – has proven to be elusive (thus far).

For example the British Library contains some 70 million items – but only holds perhaps 10 percent of all the books ever written. But this is far exceeded by the indexed World Wide Web which in 2016 is said to contain some 5 billion pages! However even the latter is thought to contain less than 0.1 percent of all the world’s yearly data output – estimated to be 1.8 zettabytes. We can conclude that the vast majority of potentially useful knowledge and data output world-wide is – at present – lost/hidden/impermanent/out-of-reach or else goes unrecorded/unsaved. 

Information collation is the first crucial aspect of our ambitious task, but even if we could successfully capture everything known; before we can adequately access this enormous data bank; a second problem rears its ugly head. That is the problem of organizing the vast mass of knowledge in such a way that it is visible, indexible, aggregatable, navigable, discoverable, linkable and query-able etc. Unfortunately the twin problems – of scale and organization – often work against each other – and because the larger and more diverse the archive gets – then the harder it is to establish an efficient Universal Data Format (UDF) to hold everything and anything together within a single unified system – or Universal Knowledge Machine.

Establishing a UDF plus efficient access method(s) is difficult – partly because of the huge diversity of content to be encapsulated – and partly because there are so many different ways to arrange, partition, aggregate, link and view information (knowledge is non-linear/multi-dimensional). For example classifying the same under multiple subject headings, numerous topic categories etc; and cross-referencing/ grouping/transposing items using different languages, theories, systems, frameworks, representation and viewing schemes etc (knowledge is multi-perspectival).

The aforementioned problems are daunting, to be sure. However today we are being helped tremendously by modern technological advances, which really do – in principle – take care of obstacles like scale of storage, interconnection and obtaining rapid, efficient access to anything from single location. However real-world experimental ‘true hyper-media’ systems like Xanadu and SUMS have demonstrated that not all problems are of a technical nature – but that sufficiently powerful information capture/ organizing/navigation schemes are required.

Internet

Some people believe that we have already built a World-Brain; specifically in the form of: the Internet, Cloud(s) and/or the World Wide Web. Whilst these developments have been tentative steps in a useful direction, expert analysis has shown how limited are the resulting systems in terms of the classification (flatness vs hierarchy), synthesis, partition/aggregation, notability and accessibility of all contained/represented thoughts, datums, claims, variants, actions, processes, patterns and relations etc.

Undoubtably, our world is today more connected than ever before, in terms of digital information flows and the rapid communication of (a tiny subset of) ideas/datums. Largely by default, with the Web it does appear that humanity is building a World-Brain. However these valiant – but ultimately suboptimal – efforts do suffer from major limitations, including lack of scale, spread, synthesis, fluidity, and flexibility etc.

Consequently current systems fail to achieve any of the key features that are required to achieve universal accessibility of content (ref. easy way-finding to any item/relation/pattern existing on the microcosm/ macrocosm, performed by anyone who is locatedanywhere/anytime).

In particular knowledge today – for example on the World Wide Web – is lumpy, impermanent, disorganized, largely invisible and unlinked, plus the contained ideas are ephemeral and wholly isolated one from another (they suffer from a lack of context/linkage, adequate partition/aggregation plus query related powers – see below). Missing are contextualizing instruments; and ways to navigate – or point-at/zoom/pan – the different Levels of Metaphysical Existence – truth/facts, belief, phantasy etc.

But it is not all bad news. It is important to note that the concept of a World-Brain is by no means dead; and because a number of modern scholars/ technologists/thinkers have made extensive plans to actually build working examples of the UKM. What is lacking is a unified call for action, and/or an efficient and effective channeling of effort on a world-wide basis. Money may be needed to bring plans into reality; but ‘smarts’ or intelligent/correct design is even more important. And we should not underestimate the power of – properly harnessed – collective action.

Cross your fingers that we (humanity) can finally pull our minds together – and build theWorld Encyclopedia. Our approach is not to re-iterate what has been said elsewhere on the World-Brain – and in fact we shall assume much of what has been recommended in the past is available to the reader – and by extension to the designer’s of a UKM. Rather we wish to unite all of the sides as together into a single top-level systematic and practical – design/blue-print perspective.

Universal Knowledge Machine

We begin with a critical overview of thinking methods, theories and philosophies; plus knowledge organization practices, systems and techniques etc. Subsequently, we imagine a new approach to knowledge capture/storage/organization/access in terms of a generalized UKM implementation that can work for all possible purposes/tasks – and from all theoretical perspectives.

The top-level goal of the UKM is clear – enabling humankind to think better thoughts (i.e. for all thinking styles: analytical + associationist + analogical); that is to develop: more accurate, relevant, true and comprehensive thoughts.

For example, desired is a knowledge machine that boosts human thinking on the largest and smallest – plus widest and narrowest – knowledge scales (i.e. metered, throttled and windowed item partitions/aggregations/associations etc); and for individual(s) and collective(s), and from the universal and particular viewpoints etc. We wish to develop a practical design for a universal knowledge machine – and our idea is to encompass all human knowledge within this machine in an easily accessible and usefully arranged Universal Data Format (UDF). Pictured is a single knowledge machine that encompasses all thoughts/ideas/facts/claims/variants etc.

As stated, many others have addressed this key goal from H.G.Wells, Paul Otlet, Ted Nelson to Kim Veltman etc. Accordingly we do not think that there is any point in listing all of the many advantages and that would accrue to humanity by developing such a system; or to exhaustively list all of the different ways that current systems such as the World Wide Web fail to deliver on the ultimate promise of a World-Brain. Nevertheless, we shall list top-level societal advantages for the UKM, and in terms of the potential for properly managed, coordinated and coherent solutions for major problem areas – and for humanity as a whole.

Others have established the key goals of the World- Brain (i.e. efficient item organization, full visibility of content, and easy accessibility); and detailed the urgent need for developing the same. Accordingly, we take it as an established fact that establishing a Universal Knowledge Machine is a highly desirable goal – and one that is today no where near even beginning development – or close to existence. Here we shall focus on how to bring the World-Brain about in theoretical terms – or more specifically – to ask what a Universal Knowledge Machine must be in structural/functional terms. Ergo we present top- level blue-prints for the World-Brain.

An attempt is made to encapsulate – or to accommodate – in the proposed system all relevant: thinking-aids, theories, ontologies, knowledge orienting and linkage methods, conceptual schemes, knowledge frameworks, data acquisition techniques and communication approaches; including a wide variety of semantic models, knowledge principles/representation-technique(s) and media aids etc. Accordingly benefitting from the extant and diverse theories/established-methods of language, science, history, art, philosophy, mathematics, library sciences, ICT and media systems etc.

It is our position that the World-Brain must be a mechanism that helps humans to think – that is to gather, process and store data/knowledge, plan for the future, and take the necessary actions to improve the lot of mankind. Such a knowledge machine must help us to think better, more relevant or true thoughts: individually and collectively.

Our proposed collective brain is to be a global thinking machine – only it is not an artificial thinking machine – but rather a human-planned/created/managed – or eminently humanistic – aid for thinking/action processes of all types, scales, magnifications, levels, purposes etc. The UKM is envisaged as a kind of ultimate top-level encapsulating meta-media system – or a single medium that encompasses all the other media types.

In view of these preliminary remarks; building the UKM certainly appears to be a fundamental and difficult task; but before we go on to explore related design issues; first a few words on scope of the UKM.